Expansiveness (Today's Daily Work of Art)

I contracted myself into the smallest spaces into which I could fit, believing my happiness lay in being likeable.

When I found myself (in pieces), I realized how much room, mine alone to inhabit, I’d been conceding to others.

Now, I’m smacking the walls, splintering the frame, willing myself into the largest existence I can create.


No boxes. No binaries. No yielding my place of power.


Certain

days shrink me.

people coerce me into thinking these walls are made of granite.

experiences undermine my foothold.


But I am imminent.

My resolve will harden my shoulders and upright my posture.

Embodied and emboldened, I will demolish any resistance to the entirety who I am.

A dog's footprint embedded in a few inches of snow.

A Study of Stillness (Today's Daily Work of Art)

I recently shared a multitude of ways to practice mindfulness and a reader reminded me to also include photography as a method. As I’ve been gearing up for having to return to work, I’ve felt my creative connection diminishing, so I decided, after an unexpected snowfall, that observing stillness (and movement) through a series of photographs would be a good exercise. The simple act of walking outside for five minutes was transformed by this experience, so I need to repeat it!

A photograph of a branch on a bush with red leaves and berries holding large puffs of snow.
A branch on a bush with red leaves and berries holding large puffs of snow.
A photograph of a maze of tree branches extending from a tree off the side to the right. The branches are covered in snow.
A maze of tree branches in snow.
A photograph of a part of a metal bench with a single drop of icy water clinging to its lower ledge.
A bench with a single drop of icy water.
A photograph of a web of large tree branches coated in snow.
A web of tree branches in snow.
A photograph of the ends of tree branches holding snow.
The ends of tree branches holding snow.

I’m glad I spent a few minutes in nature today noticing where there was stillness and where there was movement. I was frustrated that I couldn’t fully capture the large clumps of snow that kept falling off the trees, perhaps I need to work on making short videos as well. Where can you notice stillness in nature today?

Future Dreams (Today's Daily Work of Art)

At the end of each year, I spend time reflecting on how my life unfolded, who I am as a person and where I’d like to develop in the next year. This year marks the third time I’ve engaged in the process and I love the fresh start it gives me. I keep my highest aspirations, my mission statement, abstract, so that I can allow the universe to bring me experiences to round out what I’ve written. I also write out specific, targeted goals for key areas such as finances, health and personal growth. The practice as a whole feels like an invitation to myself to be accountable in a way that views failures as setbacks rather than disasters and successes as opportunities for both pride and gratitude.

For 2020, my personal mission statement reads as follows:

I make sacred work of every moment and am here and now with all of myself. I cherish my inner world as I own my limitations and, in doing so, exhibit kindness and generosity of spirit. I embody powerful vulnerability as I gather myself whole.

I believe that all the planning and personal effort in the world does not guarantee our goals will be realized. There is an element of serendipity and luck to everything we do that also affects our chances of reaching the stars to which we aspire. I lay out what I want for the next year not solely as an enterprise in what I am going to work to achieve, but also as an invitation to Spirit to bring into my life that which I need to make manifest my hopes. What are your goals and your mission statement for 2020? To what extent do you think you will reach (or not reach) what you’ve set out on your own, and to what extent will you surrender your dreams to the universe and fate? Which miracles and beauty does the tableau of your future hold?

Creature Comforts (Daily Works of Art)

Today’s card draw invited me to make art that would represent home. In contemplating this task, I was drawn to the idea of creating an atmosphere more than a visual representation. For me, the concept of home (not my childhood home but my ideal one) captures feelings of safety, ease and connection.

In attending to my senses, my sense of smell, touch and hearing were the ones that rose to the foreground (along with images of candles burning). Bread or cookies baking are cozy smells, but my physical health won’t benefit from having them circulating on a regular basis. I decided to purchase an oil warmer to gently fill my living space with calming and soothing scents. In regards to touch, I am contemplating textures such as a soft robe that I can add to my environment. In terms of sound, I want to find a cheap way to play relaxing music at all times (rather than having to use the same speaker I use for any media as I don’t own a television).

In sum, the concepts of ideal home and spa are apparently the same thing to me! I like the idea of thinking of art not simply as a visual experience, but also as something that incorporates all of my senses. I’ve been to a few parties lately and cannot believe how much my mood and comfort level shifts when the music starts blasting versus when there is only the hum of conversation. The atmosphere sets the scene and I often attribute my reactions solely to interpersonal dynamics I’m experiencing, instead of attending to how much the place and surroundings affect me. Hopefully, in noticing to the setting and viewing it as a way to represent a concept I crave deeply–home–I can then set the stage for fuller presence. What sensory experiences represent home (in terms of what you’ve like it to be) to you? What does home look like, smell like, feel like, taste like and/or sound like? What is one action you could take today to create it?

Night Sky Musings (Today's Daily Work of Art)

I’ve fallen in love with the sky. Late fall and winter have often been bleak seasons for me, given that all the vegetation is dying off. Now that I’ve started to notice the clouds, sunlight and array of colors present above, I no longer feel that this time of year is austere and lifeless. My only frustration has been my inability to convey in artwork the beauty I’m witnessing in nature.

The card I drew today focused on representing the dark, so I chose to attempt to illustrate the night sky using my set of colored pencils. This was even less successful than some of the day scenes on which I’ve been working. The black, magenta and blues I used seemed too bland and, strangely, lacking in light compared to what the night holds.

I need to spend a lot more time in contemplation of the sky as well as to take a lot of photographs of what I’m trying to capture in order to more fully capture its magnificence. The moon must have a place too! Have you tried to illustrate or create an artistic image of the night sky? What have you found helpful in doing so?

Seasonal Foliage (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I didn’t intend to draw trees without leaves as my first colored pencil project, but my attempt to create fall colors quickly left me disheartened so I shifted my concentration to bark and limb. Below are few beginner (as in, I’m a beginner) tips I’ve gleaned so far. I’ve linked to the products I’m using but am not an affiliate with any of the companies.

  • Begin with the background. One positive about drawing a tree that will be in much darker colors than the sky is that you can first create the background layer and build on it. Once I move back to including leaves, I’ll have to leave dead space for where they will be placed. In order to layer sky colors, I paid extra attention to some brilliant autumn mornings as my inspiration.
  • Outline the tree in your mid-tone color. I’m using Faber-Castell pencils, so I outline the trunk and branches in walnut brown and add the highlights and shadows later. This choice makes it easy to adjust without creating weird lines between the branch and the trunk.
  • Consider limiting your color choices if you are just starting out. I purchased the full set of colored pencils from Faber-Castell but am only using about 15 or so to create my drawings currently. This has greatly reduced my stress and has prompted me to think about how colors blend together. I’ve most enjoyed making purples and peaches in my sky by blending two or three colors together.
  • End the branches in triangles not squares. I made a tree each way and the blunt-ended squares made it look like it was dead, whereas using a thinner, pointed end for the branches allowed it appear at rest. This is obvious if you think about trees, but didn’t register for me until I finished a layer.
  • Consider proportions before placing any strokes. I got too enthusiastic on one of my trees with the grasses underneath, and they turned into a seaweed shape. The trunk to branch proportion has also been difficult for me to get my head around. I think the width of all the main branches should probably very slightly thinner when added together as compared to the trunk, and there should only be a few main divisions (one of my trees had a super-wide trunk with many main branches off of it and it did not work for me).
  • Burnishing is where it’s at! I’ve been using Gamblin gamsol to burnish the sky colors together (lay down a layer of colors, burnish and repeat), and using my Prismacolor colorless blender pencils on the tree portion. The tree is draw over the background, so there is a great chance of smearing it if I tried to use the oil. Burnishing allows the colored pencils, especially if they are oil-based like the Faber-Castell, to appear more like paint.

My tree, if I am able to make one that I feel is good enough to include on a card for my In an Open Hand deck, will be set in winter rather than fall. I almost gave up on the whole enterprise after my first set of leaves looked ridiculous, so I’m glad I found something I am able to create that has potential.

If you are starting out and you get overwhelmed, I encourage you to break down the elements of what you were trying to draw and to see if you can perfect one component at a time. After drawing all the trees to get to one I like, I think I’ll be better prepared for that elements once I start including leaves. Please leave any colored-pencil tree drawing tips, beginner or otherwise, below!

At the Center (Daily Works of Art)

In the last half-year, there has been an internal shift unlike any I can remember experiencing. I’ve started T during this period of time, so I’m certain that coming into alignment with myself as a non-binary person has played role in this change. My image of myself has been transformed as I’ve created my present.

I’m a relationship disaster. I get close to people, building up connection and hoping that “this time” something will stick and it won’t go sideways. Every single time, though, that there is a breach of trust, when I feel betrayed, used or mistreated, my trauma surfaces to an insurmountable level and the whole thing breaks apart. My deep-rooted attachment issues win the day, no matter, it seems, how much I try to will them into the background or how hard I work in therapy to undo them. I get re-traumatized and cut more deeply after every experience. I do not heal and I do not grow in my capacity to love by failing at it. The only beings I’ve ever loved are my dog and myself. Relationships with others matter and I will continue to engage in them, but they do not complete me.

My career is equally unable to give me a sense of fulfilment or meaning, despite the fact that I know what I’m doing is valuable. Every trigger I experience there makes it harder to show up the next day. I wade through it, but I don’t derive my joy or sense of purpose from it.

I care about the human condition and the planet, but I’m not an activist. Even though topics such as human rights stir my passions and I advocate for equity, I am not enough of a True Believer ™ in any cause to dedicate my life to it. I find meaning here, but it is fraught with disappointment and despair to an intensity where it is not enough, on its own, to sustain me.

I’m left, then, with the possible sources that most people turn to for their deepest nourishment a shallow bowl of thin soup. Finally, after twenty years of suicidality and less-than-ness, knowing myself to be a loner, a Not a True Believer ™ and an unmet career potential achiever, I may have hit on why I’m here. This dish is a rich stew, with layers of flavor and body.

My core is my inner world. I know my interior to a level of detail I’ve rarely encountered in others. And yet, I scrub the corridors of my mind and sweep the reaches of my heart and still I uncover things about myself I didn’t know before. And I refuse to see the gift of self-knowledge through the lens of navel-gazing self-absorption. We die alone. Life is coming to that realization and finding a reason to keep living.

I haven’t found my inner world in order to escape there and shut myself off from reality. Instead, my physical experience is at the center of my inner world. I live embodied. No, I’ve found my core because it is the root of my spirituality and creativity. I have something to honor and something to express because, in knowing myself, I find my entryway to the universe. I do not live to romance a perfect love, to make the world a better place or to achieve a capitalist monument to money, fame or innovation. I exist to live present, sacred and as a witness to the present and the sacred.

I’m a nature photograph of only the trees and the mountain. No caption to draw attention to the threats of the future. No human figure outlined as the subject. No metaphor for the accolades I’ve garnered. Only the holy now and the lens to see it.

My way of being is not the best or the singular way through life. I fully support those whose center is the periphery of my image—the happy family camping, the environmentalist chained to the tree, the goal-setter summiting the peak. There is pain in finding my focus, because I think it is trauma more than biology that has led me to it. A life unspoiled as mine was might have a depth I cannot achieve in which everything I’ve described is blended into a harmonious entree. But my point is simply that I have something for which I exist, even if it isn’t typical, appreciated or noticed. I’ve found my purpose. Attempting to compel myself to locate it elsewhere is a distraction from my fundamental source of joy and hope. I’m in this light, of this breath, reflecting divine presence.

Autumn Endings (Daily Works of Art)

Autumn is a season of contraction in my mind; a pulling inward of impulse and energy in order to prepare for the bitterness of winter. I tend to find my emotions trending more negatively and my outlook on life a bit dimmer as the sunlight arrives earlier every evening. Autumn is casting off, letting go and a hiding of secret treasures.

I released my given name a few months ago, replacing it with a chosen name of my own. Many days since have involved calling and emailing and mailing all manner of companies, telling them who I am now. I’m excited for the eventual newness, but am more in a place of reminding and replacing each piece of my life right now.

For my daily work of art, I collected a leaf that had been dropped by a tree. It was a strange find in that it was still green and soft, whereas most leaves at this point in the season are brittle, brown and fading. It felt like my previous name in a way, not retired because I died, but ensconced into my history as a memento to who I was while some of the life was still in it.

I am still who I was, but there will likely be a richness and fullness of presence I’ve only been able to achieve by transitioning to a new name that represents myself past, present and future more robustly. It’s bittersweet, in the way I’m sad to see the trees become barren, but yet I hold a tiny flame burning in anticipation of the explosion of green the spring will bring. What is autumn to you? What are you letting go of or secreting away, knowing it is necessary for growth?

Divine Light (Daily Works of Art)

I pulled the first Daily Works of Art card today which focused on creating a representation of the Divine. My mind immediately conjured images of warm sunlight and fire, glowing with softness and inviting connection. The Divine is more than a parent, but I find myself drawn most frequently to divinity in parental form, given my own lack of connection with my physical parents.

What I seek from Divinity in this space of consciousness is nurturing. I disagree passionately who think Divinity needs to be violent and harsh towards us in our failures in order to be complete; our most base instincts as humans do not need ascended representation. All this to say, a warm, inviting glowing presence, offering safety and comfort, is what I hold as Divine in my mind today.

In order to create a representation of this form of Divinity, I first started by opening some blinds and allowing light to pour into my house. I next lit several candles to cast a glow in every direction. Finally, I drew an digital image of a flame, as it allows for both light and heat to be generated.

I found myself wondering what this experience would be like through other senses, so I also listened to a video of a bonfire burning and held my hand over one of the candles to feel the warmth. I’m not sure what smells and tastes remind me of this, perhaps hot chocolate?

It fascinates me to consider my feeble artistic endeavors as perhaps the attempts of my mind to make manifest what my unconscious holds; I want to communicate my experiences with others in ways that are not solely reliant on language. I feel embarrassed by my ignorance as I think this is likely Day 1 of art theory, but for the first time in my life I’m living in this creative space, not simply being told about it by someone else. I’m still not brave enough to share what I’m making with many people, but I believe that will come with time. What is your internal representation of the Divine? Through which sense(s) do you find yourself translating your experiences?